Nick Mullens threw three touchdown passes and Ito Smith topped the 100-yard rushing mark for the fourth consecutive game as the University of Southern Miss defeated University of Texas-El Paso 34-7 Saturday night at Sun Bowl Stadium in El Paso, Texas.
Cornerback Curtis Mikell returned one of his two interceptions 100 yards for a touchdown and USM’s defense shut out the Miners over the final three quarters as the Golden Eagles picked up their second road win of the season.
UTEP’s Aaron Jones rushed for 127 yards on 16 carries, including a 68-yard touchdown run that gave the Miners (1-3, 0-1 C-USA) a 7-3 lead after the first quarter.
But Mullens threw scoring passes to Smith, D.J. Thompson and Allenzae Staggers in the second quarter and the Golden Eagles (3-1, 1-0) took over the game from there.
Jones, C-USA’s leading rusher entering the game, had 101 yards at halftime, but netted just another 26 yards after the break.
Two UTEP quarterbacks, Zack Greenlee and Ryan Metz, combined to complete 14 of 28 passes for just 113 yards with two interceptions.
One of the interceptions came after UTEP had taken the first possession of the second half and driven to the Golden Eagles’ 2-yard line. But Mikell picked off the ball and went 100 yards the other way to give USM a 31-7 lead.
The defense stymied UTEP on its last three possessions of the game, forcing the Miners to turn the ball over on downs.
The Golden Eagles kept the ball for an 11-play, 64-yard drive that ground the final 8 minutes, 2 seconds, of the game off the clock.
Smith logged his fourth, consecutive 100-yard game, rushing for 108 yards on 16 carries and caught four passes for 33 yards. He saw a seven-game streak with a rushing touchdown snapped.
Parker Shaunfield gave Southern Miss a 3-0 lead on a 34-yard field goal, but Jones’ long run put the Miners ahead 7-3 after a quarter.
But Mullens, who completed 16 of 27 passes for 176 yards, found Thompson with a 6-yard touchdown pass that gave the Golden Eagles a lead it never would lose.
Mullens and Smith combined for a 28-yard touchdown pass and the quarterback capped his second-quarter flurry with a 5-yard scoring pass to Staggers to leave the Golden Eagles ahead 24-7 at halftime.
Mullens did not throw an interception against the Miners.
Shaunfield capped the scoring with a 46-yard field goal in the fourth quarter. Shaunfield has made all six of his field goal attempts this season, including three from 40 yards-plus.
The Golden Eagles return home to take on Rice at 6 p.m. Saturday at Roberts Stadium.